Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Civil Disobedience

BOND: Yesterday I played for my class the tape recording of Thurgood Marshall's argument in the Cooper case – Cooper v. Aaron. And in that argument he says that the young people in Little Rock, young white people are being taught that the way to get your rights is to break the law. Now that was 1958.

HILL: '8, yeah.

BOND: Two years later, black young people break the law in order to get their rights by sitting in at these lunch counters. And I don't think Thurgood Marshall ever liked that, but he couldn't reconcile his respect for the law with civil disobedience.

HILL: Well, like I say, like I say, he had this high regard for the law. I didn't. I had a partner named Martin A. Martin. Martin could not bring himself to believe that the owner or proprietor of a restaurant shouldn't have the right to determine who his patrons were going to be. I disagreed with him. I mean, there's too many things that it would involve, and I persuaded him to – because I wasn't going to be in town – to represent the sit-ins from Virginia Union at the time. And we also -- we recognized the fact that we were prominent people in the community. My wife was a school teacher. We picketed Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers – they were the big department stores in Richmond at the time – and as a result, my wife persuaded a whole lot of people among social clubs she belonged to – we had all those people out there. We took the lead, other people followed.

BOND: So, you didn't have any trouble with the sit-ins and the civil disobedience and breaking the law in order to win rights?

HILL: No. I didn't have any problems about breaking the law. As a matter of fact, in 1940, I decided I wasn't going to ride Jim Crow any more, and I didn't. And -- but I never got arrested. In situations -- when my wife came to Richmond to live, she was still working on her master's at Howard. The trainmen wouldn't put her in the white's coach, so I'd take her, carry her back there, and put her in the white coach, but they never, they never tried to attempt to arrest us or anything of that nature.

BOND: Let me ask you about something else now. As you're going along in your legal career, and you're filing these law suits, most of which ask for integration or a change in the segregation status --

HILL: No, the initial suits that say --

BOND: -- equalization. Equalization.

HILL: Equalization, yeah.

BOND: But when you began to push for integration, there must have been some black people who said, "There's a danger here. We can lose jobs," and so on?

HILL: Oh, well, there was a danger. I mean, you had people that said that when we were challenging inequality. We filed suits for -- see, Negro teachers got – the top salary of Negro teachers in Roanoke, in Richmond, for example, in 1940, when we filed a suit in Richmond, was $999. The lowest salary for white teachers was $1,000, and that was true all over the state and they only got one-year contracts, so they didn't never have to, they never developed into seniority. That was true of both white and Negroes. But what I'm trying to point out is that, there were teachers who went down to the superintendent and said they weren't after this, they weren't doing anything about this, they weren't involved with this NAACP.

BOND: So how did you deal with those people?

HILL: Didn't bother with them, ignored them! I wasn't going to waste your time worrying with somebody who are not willing to do something for themselves. I was going to go on and get people -- there were plenty of people as a majority, majority of people were interested in improving their conditions. And so, we didn't waste no time worrying with people who didn't.